Audrey Hepburn’s name is synonymous with style. From the chic LBD she wears at the start of Breakfast At Tiffany’s to the black trousers and turtleneck she dons in Funny Face, her on-screen ensembles have been topping outfit polls for decades. Although I have previously considered Roman Holiday and Audrey’s film roles and her place as a fashion icon, her later roles have been neglected; an oversight considering that – although her stylish credentials were established in the 1950s – it’s the gamine, 1960s look that truly suits Audrey. Although Twiggy wasn’t to bring her doe-eyed mod style to the masses until 1966, Hepburn was an early advocate of androgynous chic. Slim and flat chested, her European-derived poise was a far cry from the artificial hour-glass glamour promoted by Marilyn, Lara et al. Of course, in the 1950s, Hepburn’s characters wore the fashionable silhouettes – full skirts and nipped-in waists – but neat shifts and slim-fits were always part of her look. But in Charade (1963) in particular, Givenchy creates a wardrobe that seems truly Audrey: neat, smart, elegant and poised. These creations, more so than those the Parisian couturier created for Breakfast At Tiffany’s just a few years before, play up to the actresses’ elfish beauty. In fact, many features of the wardrobe – large, contrast buttons, funnel collars, streamlined shapes and minimal silhouettes – would become sartorial shorthand for the decade. The pillbox hats, which she wears in several scenes are reminiscent of Jackie O, who became First Lady in 196. There’s a overhang from the 50s – especially in the prim-and-proper white gloves – but this is the formative years of the 1960s. Charade, which centres around Hitchcock-inspired mistaken identities, murder, sinister villains and dapper gentleman, and also starred Cary Grant. Despite the on-screen sophistication and elegance for which both Grant and Hepburn were famed, this was the first film they had starred in together. Director Stanley Donen was keen to make a picture that was a homage to Hitch and Grant – who had starred in North by Northwest – was the perfecting leading man. However, according to Warren G.Harris, the two leads did not enjoy a fortuitous first meeting – in fact, Hepburn spilt a bottle of red wine over Grant’s immaculate cream suit. Grant, ever the gentleman enjoyed the rest of the meal without his jacket. On-screen Grant and Hepburn are a perfect pairing, and it’s sad that this is their only film together. Despite the considerable age gap, their styles are very much in sync; his physical comedy (including an excellent scene where he takes a shower in his suit) is the perfect foil for her artless earnestness and charming humour. Although we’re never quite sure who Grant is, the audience can’t fail to like him. Grown-up and more mature than in many of her other roles, Hepburn isn’t afraid to chase Grant (something he asked for, to get over the awkwardness of that age gap) – although, because this is Hollywood in the early 60s, she needs a man to get her out of most scrapes. Despite this, Charade is one of the few spy films from the era to include a female lead, so perhaps judgement should be reserved.
Set in Paris, the perfect backdrop for a fashionable Givenchy wardrobe, the film has a rich autumnal glow, exaggerated by many of Hepburn’s garments. Her character, Regina (Reggie) Lampert, favours red and mustard shades, softened with cream and beige outfits; oh-so-chic and oh-so-Parisian. The audience first meets both Hepburn and Grant (Peter Joshua) at a ski resort in the Alps. Hepburn is chic – if a little over-the-top – in a fitted brown fur hat and jacket, accesorised with a tonal headscarf and (of course) oversized black sunglasses. Glam yet approachable, it’s nevertheless surprising to see Hepburn in a more sporty get-up.
Back in Paris, and back to ‘Hepburn’ style. Although her apartment is burgled and stripped of all its contents (and her husband found murdered) Reggie manages to pull a number of seasonally-appropriate outfits out of her Louis Vuitton suitcases. We first see her in a princess coat with three-quarter length sleeves and a narrow collar, accessoried with black flats and a black handbag and those ubiquitous white gloves, then, at her husband’s funeral, in a black boucle wool and a pillbox hat, complete with a netted veil.
When Reggie is summoned to the US Embassy to meet CIA administrator Hamilton Bartholmew (Walter Matthau) she wears a vivid red coat with oversize buttons, raglan sleeves, large flap pockets and a martingale and an attention-grabbing leopard print ‘cone’ hat. A model citizen, she is shocked to discover her husband double-crossed several other criminals during a WWII operation and is supposed to have run off with a considerable amount of money. Reggie turns detective and dons a classic double-breasted trench coat, disguising her hair with a scarf and her eyes with large dark sunglasses. As befits a good (if peculiarly stylish) spy, she carries a black curved handle umbrella and wears kid-leather gloves. Under the coat she wears a cream, midi-length shift dress with a bateau neckline and a wide black waist belt.
Of course, Reggie can’t solve the mystery alone – enter Joshua, who is ready willing and able to help – and she reverts back to her ‘usual’ wardrobe. Other key looks include a red skirt suit – the collarless jacket has a delicate frilled placket and bracelet sleeves – worn with a particularly large white pillbox, navy pyjamas with white piping and a mustard wool coat, worn with a coordinating boucle wool shift. The black accents – large buttons, a black waist belt – and the funnel neck and softly cocoon shape, make this a particularly 60s look.
Soon after its release, film critic Pauline Kael described Charade thus: “…although no more than a charming confectionery trifle [it] was, I think, probably the best American film of last year..”. Perhaps that appeal lay in its gentle frivolity, in an America rocked by the assassination of JFK it was lightweight comic relief, and the undeniable appeal of its two stars. Film changed a lot in the 1960s, as the appeal of the studio waned and cinema-goers embraced art-house films, perhaps viewing Charade now, we are nostalgic for its unashamed feel-good factor, beguiled by its glamour and in love with ideals that no longer exist.